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The Holmes 1-Touch Heater|
The Holmes 1-Touch Heater
An example of oversimplification making a UI more difficult.
I decided to take a momentary break from reviewing graphical computer
desktop user interfaces and review a real world user interface. Being a
nitpicker for optimal user interfaces and technical perfection, I was compelled
to write something when I came across this real world user interface that,
in an attempt to simplify usage, had made usage more difficult.
We recently got a number of Holmes Model HCH4135 1-TOUCH twin ceramic
heaters at the office where I work. These heaters are different from most
in that they use a single button for operation. They have two fan speeds
and an adjustable thermostat, other than that they have no fancy features.
They actually heat very well and are great for keeping warm in the winter...
and the summer if your office AC thermostat is permanently stuck at 50º
The single button makes the unit appear simple to operate, but having
operated one myself and as I watched a number of other people attempt to
use them it was apparent that it was not so simple.
The control looks likes this:
Pressing the button cycles forward through the following settings:
|High always on -> Low always on -> High 60 ->
High 65 -> High 70 -> High 75 -> High 80 -> Low 60 -> Low 65 -> Low 70
-> Low 75 -> Low 80 -> Off
Holding down the button for two seconds at any setting will also turn
the heater off. Turning the heater back on after doing this will return
it to the setting it was previously on.
At first this may not look like a big deal, but people started having
problems as they started to use these heaters.
First, the obvious way to turn off the heater is to hit the button repeatedly
to cycle through all of the options back to off. People found this frustrating
and time consuming.
The alternate way to turn the heater off is to hold the button down
for two seconds. It is not obvious that this is possible. In fact it is
so non-obvious that the heater has a small sticker on the front explaining
this (In English only). People using the heaters did not notice the sticker
and sometimes had to have it pointed out to them.
Once they had seen the sticker they still had problems turning the heater
off. Think about this: In the afternoon when it is time to leave the office,
nobody wants to stick around for even one extra second, more or less two.
It is very easy to accidentally leave this heater on.
Pressing the button when it is set on Low, for example, may cause the
fan to shut off as it starts to switch to High-60 but if the button is
not held down for an entire two seconds it will remain at High-60. Unless
you check the display you might not notice that it has not actually shut
off. Besides being an annoyance, this particular problem problem could
possibly even be a potential safety hazard.
In the end, people using these heaters became very frustrated that the
heater would not shut off quickly enough, and worried that they might accidentally
leave theirs on. Some people actually resorted to just unplugging the heater
when they were done. They found unplugging it less complicated and less
error prone than using the button to turn the heater off.
Another common action with this heater is to reduce the fan noise when
talking to someone by switching the heater down to low and then later turn
it back to high. This is something that even I do quite a bit. Switching
from high to low is easy enough, but I am forced to toggle trough all of
the options again when switching back to high. In all fairness the designers
may have assumed that a typical user would leave the heater at one setting
After observing real world usage of these devices, I was left with the
feeling as if they had possibly not been properly user tested. I could
almost imagine a pointy-haired boss sitting at his desk exclaiming "Dilbert,
I want you to design a heater that is simple - something that dosn't have
as many dang controls as other heaters"
So, how does a typical heater operate and compare then?
Typical space heaters commonly have two knobs:
The first knob selects the fan setting; usually off, low, and high.
The second selects a temperature for the thermostat.
With this layout it is easy to turn the heater on and off or switch
between low and high while leaving it at the desired thermostat setting.
So how does something like the Holmes 1-Touch get on the store shelves?
These folks don't have a monopoly on heaters so they aren't forcing people
to buy them. So why do people buy them?
People WANT them.
Outwardly these heaters appear sleek and simple. People want simple
attractive products. Of course, companies want to make money so they sell
what the people want. And store shelves are alreay stuffed full of much
worse products so even if it isn't perfect most people these days don't
care much. It also helps if they cost less (probably why we got ours.)
And once you get used to these one button controls they arn't that bad,
like I said I am just a nitpicker.
And now for the obligitory screen shot of... a heater created by being
browsed by all of Slashdot.